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There have been similar questions on this site before, such as this one but none of them seems to be able to give a definite answer on this one.

According to both Oxford Learner's Dictionary and Cambridge Dictionary, when using in questions/negative setences, as in "Are there any people in the house?" or "There aren't any people in the house", we can only use plural or uncountable nouns. Below is the snapshot from the page of Cambridge Dictionary that explains it. Please note the yellow Warning box.

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However, consider this question on English Stack Exchange where the OP asked which one is correct between "any questions?" and "any question?" and the accepted answer says both are correct and that ""Any question" places a strict limit on the number of questions allowable to exactly one."

For example, both of the following questions are correct:

  • Is there any particular patient not responding to the prescribed medicine?

  • Are there any particular patients not responding to the prescribed medicine?

While the first one implies the asker expects exactly one patient, the second one implies he expects more than one patients.

So, who is correct between the dictionaries and the answer in the question?

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  • If someone on the linked question claimed that asking singular "Any question?" places a strict limit on the number of questions allowable to exactly one, they're talking rubbish. That's not an idiomatically valid thing to say. The singular occurs in many other context, such as There is no question about it - "Any question?" is not a valid thing to say after, for example, delivering a talk. Jul 24, 2023 at 11:41
  • @FumbleFingers Thank you and I see. Can you provide a full answer to my question? Jul 24, 2023 at 11:43
  • I'm not clear what you're asking here. Your final pair of "particular patient[s]" is a bit weird - I find it hard to imagine any speaker deliberately phrasing in the singular in order to indicate that he expects there to be at most one - but it's grammatically possible, obviously. The singular "Any question?" is just a mistake. I don't know if you're asking about singular/plural question[s] or the use of the word any. (Where I've no idea what you mean by "weak" any anyway! :) Jul 24, 2023 at 11:56
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    btw - so far as I'm concerned, the first paragraph of the main answer on the linked ELU question is completely wrong. And the second paragraph doesn't really say much anyway, so I don't know why it's got so many upvotes. Ignore it. Jul 24, 2023 at 12:29
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    Could you endeavour to post text as text, rather than pictures. Pictures of text cannot be indexed by google or read by software for the sight-impaired. Jul 24, 2023 at 13:33

2 Answers 2

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Very simply - believe the Oxford Learner's Dictionary if it disagrees with anything you read here.

But - the OLD does not actually contradict FraserOrr's answer in the other ELL question you cite.

"Thanks for coming to my talk. Any question?"

is incorrect use - this will sound wrong to nearly every fluent English speaker. As the OLD rule indicates, we must not use a single form for an indefinite quantity with a countable noun.

"Thanks for coming to my talk. Can there be any question that this work is important?

is not incorrect use, because it is not an indefinite quantity. There is only one question here, even though its existence is hypothetical. The rule you cite does not apply - notice the other asker simply asked if they should use "any question" or "any questions", without giving more information.

A good rule of thumb when using 'any' in the way OLD describes is simply to delete the word 'any' and see if the sentence still works.

So: "Is there potato in the pantry?" is incorrect, as "**Is there any potato in the pantry?" is also incorrect. And, "Are there potatoes in the pantry?" is good, just as "Are there any potatoes in the pantry?" is good.

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    I actually don't quite understand what the asker is asking in the question "Can there by any question that this work is important?". Can you explain to me? Jul 25, 2023 at 3:13
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    The speaker is asking if a question about if the work is important or not can exist. He is expecting a "no" answer, implying that it cannot exist and the work is important. Another example is "Thanks for coming to my talk. Any student who wishes to stay and discuss further, may". This one is also not what the OLD is talking about - this time it is because it is not asking any question at all. But it is still within the scope of the other ELL question.
    – BadZen
    Jul 25, 2023 at 3:15
  • Thank you. So, in your answer, when you say that saying "Is there any potato in the pantry?" is wrong, what if the reader is expecting a 'no' answer just like in the example "Can there by any question that this work is important?" Jul 25, 2023 at 3:19
  • One would not say "Is there any potato in the pantry?". The OLD rule applies - it is a question about an indefinite quantity.
    – BadZen
    Jul 25, 2023 at 3:22
  • I mean what if the asker is implying that there can only be one potato, if at all (perhaps he saw only one potato in the pantry the night before and this morning he wants to know if that potato is still there). In that case, can he use the singular form of the potato? Jul 25, 2023 at 3:25
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Read the whole article. The answer is already there.

There are two forms of “any”: a weak and a strong. You have posted the definition for one (the “weak form”), but are confused when you see the other (the “strong form”). But if you continue to read the rest of the articles you linked, you will find the answer is there.

Your examples illustrate the two forms of “any”

Your two samples are an example of the strong and weak forms respectively:

  • strong: Is there any particular patient not responding to the prescribed medicine?

  • weak: Are there any particular patients not responding to the prescribed medicine?

Your interpretation, “…the first one implies the asker expects exactly one patient, the second one implies he expects more than one patients.” is right for the second case, but wrong for the first.

In the first, strong, sentence the speaker is asking about the existence of any patient, but they expect that there isn’t one, so they’re challenging the listener for a response. (“challenging” doesn’t mean they are being aggressive, just that by asking the question, they are making a claim).

In the second sentence, the use of the weak form, suggests that the speaker expects that there may be such patients, and is asking for confirmation. Here, the questioner makes no claims, and is just requesting information.

You should use relative clauses in questions like these

While it is possible to figure out your meaning here, the wording you have chosen is not natural. Instead of “not responding to...”, native speakers would use a defining relative clause here, as follows:

  • Is there any particular patient who does not respond to the prescribed medicine?

  • Are there any particular patients who do not respond to the prescribed medicine?

…note that “who” is the same for singular and plural subjects, but the verb “to respond” still has to change to match the subject.

“strong” and “weak” are spoken differently

The strong and weak forms are much easier to spot in speech:

  • strong: Is there any patient not responding...?
  • weak: Are there any patients not responding...?

Note that the “strong form” any is stressed, while the weak one has the word “any” unstressed.

This “rule” is general advice about the most common use of “any” to stop you making a common learner’s error

The weak form is the more common in writing and speech. The article is trying to steer you away from making clearly inocorrect statements like this:

  • wrong: Is there any chip in that packet?
  • wrong: I do not have any holiday left this year.
  • wrong: Is there any potato in the pantry?
  • wrong: We cannot sell any knife to you.

These are questions, or negative statements about quantity or number. In this kind of sentence, where there’s no emphasis, when you use “any X”, then the general rule is that X should be plural if it is a countable noun.

This is a good rule to learn first, but it is not by any means the only rule for the use of the word “any”, and your articles do go into several exceptions to this advice: just scroll down.

…some nouns look singular, but aren’t

Also, consider that there are nouns that are both countable and uncountable depending on the meaning:

  1. correct: He doesn’t have any heart.

Why not “hearts?”. Well, it could be, if we were talking about a butcher, but here, “heart” is the uncountable noun meaning “compassion or kindness”, not the organ that pumps blood.

…but this does not apply to every kind of sentence with the word “any”

But this rule applies only to questions, or negative statements using what’s called the “weak” form of “any” - where you are not trying to claim anything by asking the question. The other form, the “strong form” is used to say you are not talking about the quantity, but about whether or not the thing exists. When you use the strong form, you are also making a statement about what you think the answer is (usually it’s “no”). Here are some examples:

  1. correct: I don’t not know if he had any home in those days.
  2. correct: Any problem that might occur would be minor.
  3. correct: Is there any among you who would help me?

#3 is a different use of “any”, with the meaning of “any [person]”. It’s a little archaic, but because it is in English translations of the Christian Bible, and the works of Shakespeare, it still gets used sometimes by speechmakers (or dialogue for fantasy films...)

Other uses of “any”

These sentences are the “strong” form of any, but are not questions or negative statements, so there’s no special meaning if you use the singular or plural.

  1. correct: You can have any colour you want.
  2. correct: You can have any colours you want.
  3. correct: “Any port in a storm”

Note #1 implies that the thing can be a single colour of your choice, #2 implies that one or more colours could be used.

#3 is a saying. The meaning is that when your situation is bad, you do not have the luxury of choosing who helps you: when the sea is stormy, even an unsafe port is a better place for your ship. This is a similar meaning to “beggars can’t be choosers” or the very idiomatic “needs must when the Devil drives”)

The strong form of “any” in questions and statements

Even in questions and negative statements, native speakers do indeed use singular nouns with “any”. Doing so is a sign that they’re using the strong form. Generally this is indicates:

  • rhetorical questions
  • very emphatic negative statements
  1. Is there any waiter working in this restaurant tonight?
  2. Is there any reason why I shouldn’t fire you right now?
  3. There isn’t any tire for driving on ice (i.e., “such a thing does not exist”)
  4. No, there isn’t any ticket (i.e., “you asked me for tickets to one show, there are in fact no tickets at all, regardless of the show”)

Remember that the strong form makes a claim as well as asking a question - the questions are basically re-phrasings of the emphatic “There is no X” (where “is” is stressed). Also, note that this kind of strong emphatic or rhetorical use can seem impolite.

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    Isn't the sentence "is there any among you who would help me?" a question? But yoh listed it under "other kinds of sentence". Jul 24, 2023 at 23:35
  • "Is there any among you who would help me?" is poor diction, this is not quite like "Is there any man among you who would help me?", because it is a different use of 'any'. In the first sentence, 'any' functions as a pronoun, and not as a quantifier. As I said in my answer, questions like "Is there any man among you who would help me?" and "Can there be any question?" are not an indefinitely quantity, so the OLD rule does not apply. The use of 'any' as a quantifier is like the use of 'each' or 'every' as a quantifier: "Every dog has his day." The quantity is not indefinite; it is one.
    – BadZen
    Jul 25, 2023 at 3:44
  • @BadZen it’s not poor diction, it is, as I said, an archaic formulation, and you can find the construction in several current English translations of the Christian Bible (e.g, James 5:13; "Is any among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful?…" ).
    – KrisW
    Jul 25, 2023 at 8:19
  • There's no contest here, archaisms are a type of poor diction.
    – BadZen
    Jul 25, 2023 at 13:12
  • @BadZen Right-o. Archaic phrasing, such as that in the Bible or the works of Shakespeare has no place in “proper” English? A bold assertion, and frankly a foolish hill to die on, but knock yourself out...
    – KrisW
    Jul 25, 2023 at 13:30

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